On Tuesday, Barack Obama is expected to sign into law the $787 billion economic stimulus package in Colorado according to this AP press release. With this action, the bill will bring many new spending initiatives along with the tax breaks negotiated during the House and Senate conference sessions. As expected, health care in the U.S. will receive a hopeful boost from this economic stimulus package.

A couple important areas that will receive this new source of funding include $10 billion for the National Institutes of Health (NIH) and $1.1 billion for comparative medical studies research. The New York Times details well the process of how Senator Arlen Spector, a survivor of cancer twice and open-heart surgery, secured NIH such a boost in funding in an article. However, what I would like to focus more on is the second funding initiative as described in the NYTimes. One prevalent issue in health care today is the debate over whether wide-scale research studies should be conducted to test whether a drug, surgery, medical device, or other strategy work to cure a specific sickness better.

To answer this longstanding question, the bill will create a “council of up to 15 federal employees to coordinate the research and to advise President Obama and Congress on how to spend the money.” Charged with administering and evaluating the usage of the newly appropriated $1.1 billion, this group will oversee a research process that will primarily address two issues. First, the study will answer many of the long-standing questions that doctors have over the value of certain treatment courses, medications, procedures, etc. Second, it will attempt to evaluate the cost-effectiveness of these procedures in regards to their success rates. The hope is to not only provide better treatment to patients, but to do so at a reduced cost by eliminating extraneous treatments. In the U.S., we currently spend over $2 trillion per year, accounting for 16% of the national GDP. With this money to be distributed over the years, government officials hope to answer many of these complex questions.

However, with the new-found money and vast opportunities for comparative effectiveness research comes many concerns about its results. First, the Congressional Black Caucus expressed their reservations with the program because it will, “‘be based on broad population averages that ignore the differences between patients.'” This was supported by some leaders have expressed reservations that the studies will overlook differences in how drugs and treatment affect a patient, especially because they do not include enough women, blacks, or Hispanics. Congress did put in language to try to include women and minority groups, but the aforementioned leaders remain skeptical. Secondly, many legislators and professionals feel that this will represent an intrusion of the patient-doctor relationship by the government. They believe the government, with the results of these studies, will set mandates and treatment protocol that will intrude on personal health care choices. The results of this new research initiative will remain to be seen, as it has been met with mixed opinions when tried in Europe.

Advertisements